‘Homecoming’ Season 2 Shifts to a New Mystery With Ominous Suspense

As it returns for a second season, Homecoming faces a unique conundrum in the age of Peak TV. The series premiered two years ago with no less than Julia Roberts as its lead. Not only did the show feature one of the biggest actors of all time, it placed Roberts in an archaic plot where aesthetic and tone mattered more than story. For this new offering the series branches out into a hybrid of continuation and reboot. We pick up where season one left off, but veer off with a whole new character and mystery.

Now we are following Alex (Janelle Monáe), who awakens on a boat floating in a lake near a wooded area. As you can probably guess she has no memory of who she is or how she got here. So off she goes to seek answers. First she lands in a hospital where doctors notice a tattoo suggesting she might be military, but a mark on her arm also makes them suspect she could be a junkie. At a bar she’s told she had been there earlier with a mysterious friend and both were kicked out after a fight. This leads Alex to a hotel room where she finds a photo of herself as a soldier, with the faces of others marked out. What is going on? To get an answer she uses clues found at the room to make her way to the headquarters of Geist, the company who in the last season developed a drug to help veterans forget events which caused PTSD. While wandering the Geist Industries headquarters, we are reintroduced to Audrey (Hong Chau), a Geist secretary who ascends after exposing the corrupt policies of Colin (Bobby Cannavale), who ran an operation sending soldiers right back into combat after their memories were wiped clean. But as Audrey rises there are new dangers and her own connection to Alex will expose new schemes afoot.

The tag “Season 2” almost feels thrown in because the title of the series remains “Homecoming” and it is still set at least within the world of the original story. However much of it feels like a whole new show. Once again, as with many of these recent Peak TV series, this one has to figure out how to continue a plot that was quite self-contained the first time around. Without being able to continue following Julia Roberts, the new season first shifts gears with Alex. The first three episodes are essentially a classic missing memory thriller, shot with zooms worthy of Brian De Palma and a music score Hitchcock would have been proud of. Loaded with recognizable devices like cryptic photos, odd body markings and people claiming to have seen Alex do things she can’t recall, these episodes offer nothing particularly groundbreaking but are efficiently produced. There is ominous tension throughout as Alex enters the Geist headquarters, sits down for strange group experiments and is then suddenly recognized by Audrey.

Starting with the fourth episode the season then turns its focus more towards Audrey. She gains the trust of the company’s namesake and founder Leonard Geist (Chris Cooper), who in Howard Hughes-style remains isolated in a vast, private garden where he tests new chemicals. A flashback episode reveals how she took down Colin in front of Cooper, exposing his crooked operation which makes the mogul erupt in anger. We are also reintroduced to Walter Cruz (Stephen James), a veteran we met last season who became our first introduction into the memory experiments going on at Geist Industries. He is still not a whole man and when we first meet him he is telling a doctor about surgery he once had performed on his head, but when the doctor checks there’s no scar there. 

As with the first season, “Homecoming” in this new narrative is most enjoyable as a show based on atmosphere. It depends little on action and more on the strong performances, particularly Chris Cooper as a bitter, disappointed CEO, rhythmic editing and alluring music score. As a narrative it struggles in finding any valid reason to return to this story. Its central mystery was revealed the first time around, now the writing team is stuck attempting to give you a reason to binge again. This might explain why it is a short season with only seven episodes. A lot of the narrative focuses on Audrey rising through the Geist ranks with Machiavellian precision and ruthlessness. Gradually Alex becomes more of a background character. The introductory mystery about her memory loss loses steam because it does remain the central point of the season’s plot. It is almost the equivalent of having visited one wing of the Geist Industries building in season one, and now visiting another section. 

It could be a wise choice to redraft “Homecoming” as an anthology for the next round (if there is one). By the end of this season we have been treated to some well-produced TV but nothing more. This is a good-looking show with much craft that could be better used in fresh stories. After you have visited Geist Industries once there is not much reason to go back.

Homecoming” season two begins streaming May 22 on Amazon Prime Video.